I am here on behalf the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who has a cold and cannot be here and sends his apologies. The Government is acutely aware of the impact the recent increases in energy prices are having on households. This is a global phenomenon and expert commentators, including the International Energy Agency, IEA, have attributed this to a range of demand and supply factors that have contributed to a tightening of the European gas market supplies and the upward trend in wholesale gas prices we have witnessed since mid-2020.
The best long-term approach for Ireland to insulate consumers from volatility on international wholesale energy markets is to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy and to expand interconnection with our European and neighbouring markets and to deepen internal electricity market integration.
The Government's immediate response to address the increase in domestic energy prices has been to utilise the tax and social welfare system to counter rising costs of living. Budget 2022 increased the weekly rate of the fuel allowance so that €914 will be paid to eligible households over the course of this winter. It increased the qualified child payment and the living alone allowance and an increase to the income threshold for the working family payment was also announced.
Consumers should continue to switch or engage with their energy supplier, and many households could still save on their bills if they did so. As recently as 9 December, switching supplier could save a customer consuming the average amount of electricity up to €313.
The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU, has in place a suite of protections against disconnection that are set out in the supplier handbook. In brief, priority customers cannot be disconnected, while vulnerable customers are protected over winter months from 1 November to 31 March each year while a CRU moratorium on disconnections for all customers comes into effect over the Christmas period. Additionally, under the supplier-led voluntary energy engage code, suppliers will not disconnect a customer who is engaging with them at any time.
Further, due to the ongoing pressure on households, the Government agreed today to provide a one-off credit of €100 to every domestic electricity account holder through their electricity supplier in the first quarter of 2022.